Sermon: Sunday 30 March 2014
Lent 4 / Mothering Sunday
The Revd Pete Hobson, Acting Canon Missioner
‘Thirst’ on Mothering Sunday
What to preach about on Mothering Sunday in a ‘Think Hunger’ Lent? We can perhaps at least leave apple pie for another time… and note on the way that the very name originates not from the much more recent transatlantic innovation of a ‘mother’s day’, but dates back to more feudal days when Lent was broken by one Sunday when by tradition all gathered at their ‘mother’ church, and when it also became custom to allow live-in servants a day off to return to their families in to do so.
It’s been said the greatest human fear is of abandonment, and the ultimate human challenge is to offer another person total trusting commitment. This fear of abandonment/challenge to commitment begins of course on the day we are given birth to, expelled from the nurture of the womb, into a world where ever-increasingly to experience love requires reciprocity and commitment.
Which takes us to ‘motherhood’ – which like every human experience with an emotional content is bound to be a mixed bag for us all. Our experiences of mothering, of being mothered, will be so variable. Some – perhaps many – overwhelmingly positive. But others less so. Much like in the story from the start of the Exodus, our first reading, three of our own five children are adopted, and each has their own separate story of a family they couldn’t stay in, for various reasons. Not that we pulled any of them out of a river, let alone called them Moses. But they have known an absent mother and father. Yet also very present parents in Sue and me. If you ask them about their ‘real mother or father’, as someone did only the other day, they’ll tell you it is us. The others are ‘birth family’.
So it is that mothers and mothering is a concept into which we pour whatever life experience has brought us, of good and bad, and it has the power to make us feel both good and bad in equal measure. You may be feeling some of that right now.
So how to link that back into hunger – or, to be more precise today, into thirst? Our gospel reading from John 19 has Jesus on the cross commending his own mother into the care of John the beloved disciple, and indeed author of that gospel.
And it was from that same cross, moments later, (v28) that John records Jesus uttering the words ‘I thirst’, and moments after that giving up his life.
What did the words ‘I thirst’ signify? There’s a reference to Psalm 22 (whose first verse is quoted explicitly in Matthew and Mark’s Passion accounts) and Psalm 69. But if we stop for a moment to consider what was the worst part of Jesus’ experience on the cross, we see from all the accounts that it was not the physical suffering, but the spiritual abandonment he felt from his Father. That first verse of Psalm 22: ‘My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?’ Is it coincidence that just before those words he has relinquished his last two human loves – his mother, and his beloved friend – to one another? And it was alone – uttrly alone, and separated even from his father God – that he drew his last breaths on the cross.
Being thirsty for water is bad enough on the body. Being thirsty for love is even worse for the spirit. It is our worst fear – and responding to it is our greatest challenge.
So yes, let us do all we can to support the hungry and the thirsty – in our family we use the charity Wateraid. But let us also do all we can to meet that greater human need – the need for meaningful, secure, loving relationships. We need it from the moment of our birth to the instant of our death. We seek it in one another and at times find something, and sometimes very much, of it. And as Paul urges his hearers in today’s epistle from 2 Corinthians the measure to which we can reliably give each other that love and consolation depends to a great measure on the way in which we have ourselves received that consolation from God.
But human love is always erratic, and even at its best transient. The ultimate source of that love, the ultimate living water that satisfies every thirst, lies beyond.
On the cross Jesus said ‘I thirst’. On the cross Jesus also demonstrated – yes, in his care for his own mother and beloved disciple, but even more so in the totality of that very act of final sacrifice – the ultimate never-ending, always trustworthy love that alone meets our deepest needs.
Let’s come. Let’s drink. Let’s know what it is to be loved ultimately and securely. And in that knowledge, let’s love in return.
© The Revd Pete Hobson